Almost as much as the iconic Qizhong Stadium and the riverside Bund, Alex Grabowsky is one of the most recognizable features of the Rolex Shanghai Masters, at least to the players.
Heading up transportation in Shanghai for the last 15 years, stretching back to the days of the Tennis Masters Cup, Alex is responsible for making sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be, when they’re supposed to be.
Based in Hamburg, Alex brings German precision to his department, mobilizing a fleet of 80-some Mercedes S-Class and V-Class sedans and Sprinters, along with a host of 50-seater buses to look after the transportation needs of approximately 200 people including players and their teams, assorted media, sponsors, and VIP guests like Li Na this year.
“At the start of the tournament, I had 813 e-mails in my box,” he said, shaking his head.
Until the quarterfinal stage when transportation requests start calming down, Alex and his team have to process a flood of information including who needs to be picked up from which airport, when losing players need to be dropped off, who’s attending what sponsor event, who needs an early car to the stadium, and the list goes on.
Managing transportation for numerous tournaments around the globe, from smaller ATP 250’s to majors, Alex admits that Shanghai is unique in many ways.
“This is the only tournament where I am not able to communicate directly with the drivers,” he says. “But if you put your arms straight out or mime a backhand, the drivers understand whether you need to go to the airport or the stadium.” Thankfully, cars are now equipped with dual-language communication cards (one of Alex’s innovations), but gestures are always welcome.”
Still, there can be the odd bump in the road. “Two years ago, a top player forgot his passport in the hotel room,” he remembers. “We rushed a car to the airport and fortunately, he made his flight. That’s one of the reasons why transport is one of the tournament divisions which must be good.”
As we’re talking, Alex receives a call. A player has forgotten his tablet in Car 18. A few calls are made and Alex quickly tracks down the car, redirecting it to the airport where the player has just checked in for his flight. “It’s not usual, but it can happen,” he says with a been-there, done-that shrug. “My motto is that if nobody talks about transportation, that means we’re doing a good job.”
In the business for some 25 years now, Alex started as a driver at the 1990 year-end championships in Frankfurt, and all told has attended 27 year-end finals. “Roger Federer saw me a couple of years ago and said that we were the dinosaurs of the ATP tour,” he remembers fondly.
These days, Alex rarely makes it out to the Qizhong Stadium to actually watch the action, even though the love of the game is what got him into the field of transportation in the first place.
“I started playing tennis when I was eleven and even won a doubles and a mixed doubles tournament at one point. But that was a long time ago, when I still had hair,” he laughs.